A “Seat at the Table” – which table do you want - Big or small?



People are constantly talking about “A seat at the table”. My question is – “Which table are you talking about - big or small?”

The big table is in the conference room. It has 20 chairs around it. When management meetings happen all the chairs are filled. Every organizational function is represented. These meetings are tactical and work is delegated out. All the real decisions have already been made.

The following picture only shows part of the table. HR people in particular are happy to have “a seat at the table”. They think they have arrived.

The other table is the “small” table. It is in the CEOs office. It has 3 maybe 4 chairs around it. That is where the CEO, COO and CFO make all the big decisions. Strategies are mapped out, resources are allocated and goals are defined.

The fourth chair should be occupied by the manager of the “greatest asset”; but seldom is. The C-Suite wants the Chief HR Officer to be there. So, what is holding HR back? Is it because they are not valued? The C-Suite does not understand how important HR is? No, that is not the problem.

The small table talk is all about numbers, strategy, business growth, revenues and profits. An International CEO survey in the 2015 Trends in HR by Deloitte Consulting gave HR a 1.6 on a 4.0 scale (a solid D) in business acumen. This is the obstacle keeping HR from having a seat at the small table.

The problem is that when I speak to HR professionals and I bring up that business acumen is not a strength of HR – I ALWAYS get the same answer. “I am the exception to that rule.”  If EVERY HR professional is an exception to the rule then the rule cannot be true. Or HR professionals are not facing and dealing with reality.  

My goal is to show HR people how to get a seat at the small table. For this to happen they have to deal with the reality of their strengths and weaknesses. It is only then do they get to move from the tactical table to the strategic table.